Sunday, March 18, 2018

Lisa Vogel Agency opens in downtown Bethesda

Stevenson, Maryland-based The Lisa Vogel Agency has just expanded to downtown Bethesda. The agency offers in-home care services designed to allow people who might otherwise be forced into nursing homes a chance to stay in their own homes.

Vogel, a graduate of Loyola University Maryland, recalled the lonely faces and uneven quality of care she witnessed when visiting her own grandparents in nursing homes as a child. The memories inspired her to launch an in-home care service in the Baltimore area in 2008. Now, a decade later, the agency's services are available in Bethesda on Cordell Avenue.

Westbard plaintiffs will appeal judge's decision in lawsuit

Plaintiffs in the legal battle over the 2016 Westbard sector plan have decided to appeal a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge's decision against them last week. Despite the County Planning Board's failure to measure the greenhouse gas and carbon emission impacts of the plan, Judge Richard Jordan claimed that somehow the commissioners were magically above the law, and did not actually have to.
The County Council appoints the Planning Board
Click here to join the fight for
responsible planning in Montgomery County
Out of the three claims dismissed by Jordan, that interpretation appears to be the weakest point in his ruling, one factor among several that encouraged plaintiffs to seek another opinion. Many community members also share that view. “The law’s mandate is clear,” former President of the Sumner Citizens Association Sid Clemans said. “The Board must evaluate the plan’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and consider ways to limit emissions and reduce vehicle miles traveled. It’s not a discretionary analysis,” Clemans said.
"...we couldn't claim the
greenhouse gas and carbon-spewing
Westbard sector plan will improve
the environment!" #Oops
In fact, the other recent sector plans passed by the Council - including the Bethesda Downtown Plan, White Flint 2 Plan, and Grosvenor-Strathmore Plan - all included the mandated greenhouse gas and carbon assessment. By virtue of being located at Metro stops, the environmental impact of those plans could be made to appear lower, with the assumption that transit use would be heavier. Not so at Westbard, which is a whopping 2.2 and 3.3 miles from the two closest Metro stations. With the Westbard sector plan therefore fueling a thousands-fold increase in auto emissions, it's no wonder the developer-friendly Planning Board would not want the greenhouse gas and carbon impact numbers to become public.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Lost shoe shuts down escalator at Westfield Montgomery Mall

A woman's shoe somehow became lodged in the Up escalator by Sears at Westfield Montgomery Mall yesterday. The shoe-snatching escalator was temporarily shut down as a result. A good reminder to always "watch your step." With apologies to this escalator, I'm afraid Metro has the inoperable-escalator market cornered in Montgomery County.

Runway closes for renovations at Bethesda Row

Runway, the apparel boutique at 7125 Bethesda Lane, has temporarily closed for renovations. Friday evening found the store's windows papered over. The shop will reopen on March 26. Runway is part of entrepreneur and investor Marcus Lemonis' growing empire of fashion retail stores.

St. Patrick's Day specials in Bethesda 2018

Be a leprechaun in the 'hood today with these St. Patrick's Day specials in Bethesda. Just don't let the greedy and corrupt Montgomery County Council steal your gold!

Brickside Food & Drink

Guinness and Killian's drafts, all bombs, Jameson, Tullamore Dew, and Fireball are $5 all weekend. They even have a special menu today and tomorrow featuring items like the Irish Car Bomb Burger topped with Guinness onion rings, a fried egg, Bailey's braised bacon, and Jameson BBQ sauce.

4866 Cordell Avenue

The Barking Dog

Live Irish music, Irish food, green beer and drink specials all night. Opens at 11:00 AM this morning.

4723 Elm Street

Flanagan's Harp & Fiddle

Where better to go than a real Irish pub? $4 Killian's drafts, $5 Miller Lite bottles, $7 20 oz. Guinness, Irish dancers, live Irish music, including the popular 19th Street Band.

4844 Cordell Avenue

Frida Beer Garden

Bethesda's newest place to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.  Enjoy tacos, arepas, tostadas and bowls with a Caribbean cocktail or beer while playing cornhole or Nerf Basketball under the heaters. All Maryland draft beers will be $2 off all weekend. As a bonus, half of the proceeds this month go to Acción Humanitaria for Venezuela, providing humanitarian relief in Venezuela.

4905 Fairmont Avenue
(outside of TacoArepa)


TAPP'D is hosting a Shamrock & Roll Party all day long, with a free Irish breakfast (9-11 AM), $1/$2/$3 Guinness, $2 Jameson shots, DJs and entertainment, and the all-important Jameson Girls.

4915 St. Elmo Avenue

Caddies on Cordell

It's St. Caddies Day, with DJ Sway and DJ KayJay, $5 Jameson shots, $6 Guinness, $6 car bombs, $6 Fireball, and $12 non-premium pitchers. As a bonus, Caddies will be hosting a Boozy Brunch Party tomorrow, Sunday, March 18, from 11:00 AM to 3:30 PM, with a half-price brunch menu and $15 bottomless mimosas, Bloody Marys and Screwdrivers.

4922 Cordell Avenue

Friday, March 16, 2018

Mismanaged Montgomery County finances end up in the red again with $200,000,000 budget shortfall

Regular readers of this website know that Montgomery County government is stuck in a structural budget deficit as far out as the projections go. So those folks won't be surprised at all to find out that their incompetent and spendthrift County Council managed to yet again spend more than they took in - way more. The budget shortfall heading into the FY-2019 budget process is a whopping $200,000,000.

County Executive Ike Leggett released his proposed budget yesterday, and it includes not a dime of tax relief for residents now paying the highest taxes in County history. No property tax cut, no energy tax cut - not even a rain tax cut! Property taxes will increase automatically; unless the County Council changes Leggett's proposed tax rate, you will be guaranteed to have a higher property tax bill.

Happy Tax Paying from Montgomery County!


M&T Bank on Norfolk Ave. to close in June

Could Montgomery County's moribund economy be putting a damper on the explosive growth of banks in downtown Bethesda? This morning brings the second bank branch closure announcement in as many weeks. M&T Bank's prominent corner location at 7920 Norfolk Avenue will close on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. If you're a customer here, their closest nearby branch is at 4800 Hampden Lane.

Final hours of the Old Georgetown Rd. Safeway in Bethesda (Photos)

Location removed from
Safeway website

The Safeway store at 7625 Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda that is scheduled to close this month appeared to be in its final hours last night. Although it was open, a sign standing near the door said, "Your closest store is now 5000 Bradley Boulevard," a message you would ordinarily see once a business had closed. The Safeway website no longer lists the store as of this morning, suggesting it has officially closed - or that they don't want the average potential customer to go to this location.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Butler Road industrial property for sale in Bethesda

5429 Butler Road, currently home to Lawn & Power Equipment, has been put on the market for sale. The asking price is $1,400,000, according to the real estate listing. Current zoning would allow a building of up to 50' in height, and at least 20,845 SF in size, on this site.

Donohoe moving forward with redevelopment of Bethesda Sunoco site

Bethesda-based real estate firm The Donohoe Companies is moving forward with a long-planned office project on the property currently home to a Sunoco gas station at 8240 Wisconsin Avenue. After considering converting the project to residential, Donohoe is now pressing ahead with a proposed (up-to) 200,000 SF non-residential building, which will be addressed as 8280 Wisconsin.

A public meeting on the project will be held on Thursday, March 29, 2018, at 7:00 PM at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center at 4805 Edgemoor Lane.

There will be two intriguing things to watch with this project.

First, the old project plan called for a 81500 SF Class A office building, with 10500 SF of ground floor retail. That's way less than 200,000. Is it possible they have managed to accomplish the ideal situation of assembling with one or more adjacent properties (they already own the Bethesda Medical Building next door), or will it simply have more floors than the original design? The Monocle building next door on Battery Lane remains on the market for $6,000,000. However, the length of the leases remaining in that tiny office building are not public knowledge.

Second, can they get a major corporate tenant to anchor a trophy office building in moribund Montgomery County? This will be a good test to see if there is already a halo effect from Marriott moving downtown.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Judge rules against residents in Westbard lawsuit

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Richard Jordan has ruled against residents in their lawsuit against Montgomery County over the Westbard sector plan. The lawsuit cited three illegalities by the County Council and Planning Board in their approval of the plan in 2016. Plaintiffs have the option to appeal the decision, and are currently deciding whether to do so. The judge's decision has not yet been docketed, but a source close to the case has seen the document.

It is indeed troubling that County officials can be given a free pass when breaking the law - and their own laws, to boot. In fact, one of the laws broken that required the Planning Board to measure the carbon and greenhouse gas emissions a plan would generate. That law was championed and steered to passage by Councilmember Roger Berliner, who did not call out the board for breaking that law when commissioners appeared before the Council during worksessions on the plan. Berliner, like the rest of the Council, voted in favor of the plan.

The Westbard fight is far from over, but the lawsuit was worth every penny. Attorney Michele Rosenfeld is arguably the sharpest land-use lawyer in the County, and one of the few who will represent residents rather than developers. Her efforts in research and litigation got results again in this case (which may not be over).

Developer Regency Centers had to scale back its initial plan. While the developer ultimately may be able to build as much as originally-planned (or more, using loopholes in the law), that construction will be staged over a much longer period - at least a decade. Instead of all of Ridgefield Road and Westbard Avenue being torn up at once in a maelstrom of dust and rat hordes, it will be a more orderly process.

Small business owners and workers at the Westwood Shopping Center will be able to stay in place longer, and continue to receive income, as a result of the lawsuit. Those folks have become friends and neighbors to the community over decades, and this alone made the lawsuit worth the modest cost. Regency has promised that, unlike the pre-lawsuit plan, it will leave the existing center in place until the first building of the new development is completed.

While the "civic green" at the New Westwood will still be laughably small, and right next to the main entrance drive for vehicles, only after the lawsuit did it get expanded to a "whopping" half-acre. Unlike the original plan, we'll continue to have one Citgo gas station for fuel and repairs on Westbard Avenue for either another nine years, or until Bowlmor Lanes decides it wants out of its lease.

Finally, unlike the pre-lawsuit Regency plan, there will be some surface parking available at the new center for those who don't wish to use a garage.

The lawsuit is a great example of how Montgomery County residents are forced to fend for themselves against urbanization of established suburban-scale residential neighborhoods from Bethesda to Damascus. Instead of the people we elected speaking for us and defending our interests, residents have to hire lawyers at their own expense. If elected to the County Council this fall, I will not only vote against the existing Planning Board commissioners who seek another term, but will fight to reestablish the Office of the People's Counsel to provide another tool for residents in development and zoning fights.

Sign installed at future Hyatt Regency Bethesda Starbucks (Photos)

The sign is up at the future Starbucks store in the ground floor of the Hyatt Regency Bethesda hotel. Talk about "perks" - guests will be able to access the store from the lobby. Construction of the interior is still a good ways from completion.

Future lobby access currently
walled off during construction

Sneak peek: Cheval Bethesda lobby reveal (Photos)

Wow - what a week of sneak peeks it has been. Are you ready for this? This morning I have an exclusive sneak preview of the posh lobby of the new ultra-luxury Cheval Bethesda condo tower at 4990 Fairmont Avenue. The Duball, LLC-developed tower will officially open next Thursday, March 22. Prices range from the $700s on the lower floors up to the 11th, from $1.6 million on floors 12-17, and the two remaining penthouse units will go for a cool $2M+.

You can drive up this ramp
- if you've got the cash

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

bluemercury closed through Wednesday for renovations at Bethesda Row

You may recall my recent report that bluemercury is getting a makeover at Bethesda Row. Most of the work is being done while the store remains open for business. However, some more complicated work at this phase has required a temporary shutdown through tomorrow, Wednesday, March 14, 2018. They will reopen Thursday morning at 11:00 AM.

Bethesda Violins to open at the Shoppes of Bethesda

Bethesda Violins has leased the space at 4934 Hampden Lane in downtown Bethesda. Located in the Shoppes of Bethesda, the space was recently home to WOW Cellphone Repair, and is next to the UPS Store. Give them some points for a creative, violin-themed "coming soon" display!

First look at the new Bethesda Bagels at Bethesda Row (Photos)

Bethesda Bagels is hoping to reopen tomorrow, Wednesday, March 14, 2018, after a lengthy renovation of the store's interior. Here's an exclusive first look at the results. Bethesda Bagels is located at 4819 Bethesda Avenue.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Bethesda construction update: Anthropologie (Photos)

With the demolition of the interior of Barnes & Noble now complete at Bethesda Row, construction of the new Anthropologie & Co. store replacing it is getting underway. Window screens promoting the store have been installed. The screens are also promoting Bethesda Row, including the property's 25th anniversary.

There are new questions regarding whether the store will actually occupy the full bookstore space. The existing escalators have been removed, and property owner Federal Realty appears to be offering an upper space for lease. I inquired with Anthropologie to ask how many actual floors the store will take up, but they have so far declined to respond. Many are also wondering how the outdoor Terrain Cafe seating will impact the plaza in front of the old bookstore space. You can see the fountain is outside of the construction barriers erected this weekend.